THE Eurovision Song Contest has always divided opinion. For some, it is a hideous parade of cringeworthy kitsch, for others it is a matter of the utmost national pride.
But increasingly, the annual festival of camp is becoming an expense too far for cash-strapped European countries trying to implement austerity measures.
With that in mind, two nations have pulled out of next year's competition, to be held in Malmo, Sweden.
According to Eurovision custom, the winners are obliged to host the next tournament, and there were rumours last year that the Spanish entrants had been told to try not to win.
Now it seems that, rather than strive for nul points, countries are finding it easier to pull out of the event altogether, with both Poland and Portugal announcing their withdrawal in the past few days.
The Portuguese national broadcaster cited financial pressure as the main reason. The country was given a €78m bailout by the EU last year.
Given that the country has never finished above sixth place, the government probably had little to worry about, but is clearly not going to take any chances.
Poland skipped last year's contest and has made the same decision again, citing financial pressures after its co-hosting of the European football championships this summer.
While for eurozone countries feeling the economic squeeze, hosting a Eurovision Song Contest is the last thing their governments want to splash out on, in recent years former Soviet countries have shown how seriously they take the contest.
When the Russian singer Dima Bilan won Eurovision in 2008, he was personally congratulated by Vladimir Putin, who promised a special show the next year. The Moscow Eurovision, which at the time was thought to have been the most expensive in history, was estimated to have cost around €31m to host.
Last year's tournament in Baku dwarfed these figures, however. Oil-rich Azerbaijan built the Crystal Hall, an arena seating 23,000, specially for Eurovision, and the event became something of a national rallying point.
Critics said that the dictatorial government of President Ilham Aliyev used the glitz of Eurovision to mask serious human rights issues. Unofficial estimates said the Baku government may have spent up to €620m.
In the current climate, these are expenses to which Portugal and Poland have decided they can ill-afford to risk exposing themselves. (© Independent News Service)